No matter what happens over the next two weeks, the World Cup final at Eden Park on October 23 will be a clash between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Since Ireland's upset victory over Australia two weeks ago, the rest of the pool fixtures have more or less followed the script, ensuring the draw has been split along the equator guaranteeing both hemispheres will be represented in the decider.
Ireland will kick off the quarter-final action in Wellington on Saturday night against the red-hot Welsh. Both have showed strong form throughout the pool phase with only one loss between them. Wales had two tough matches to kick off their campaign and were unlucky to go down the the Springboks, beefore holding off a spirited Samoan side. They showed their ability to score tries in thumpings over Namibia and Fiji. Meanwhile Ireland turned the competition on its head with their hard fought win over Australia and were convincing against Russia and Italy. This one is too close to call and it's unlikely the winning margin will be greater than a few points.
In the other Northern hemisphere clash the classic England-France rivalry will be resumed at Eden Park. Both sides have looked far from convincing so far, but it is the French who look to be in real trouble with dissension building in the ranks. They have suffered back-to-back losses, the latest at the hands of Tonga and there seems to be problems between coach Marc Lievremont and his team. Meanwhile England were lucky to escape with wins against the two top-ranked teams in their pool, scoring last-gasp tries in each match. France have never beaten England in a World Cup and the 2003 World Champions seem to have developed a knack for winning from unlikely situations which could give them the edge. However Les Bleus are nothing if not unpredictable and this promises to be another tightly fought contest.
The toughest of the four quarter-finals will see Tri Nations champions Australia battle South Africa in Wellington on Sunday. South Africa have been in strong form in a tough pool, but had some weaknesses exposed in their tight wins over Wales and Samoa. Australia are yet to put a fully convincing 80 minute performance out on the park. However they could have the skill out wide to exploit the Springbok' defence that showed it's cracks against Samoa.
Finally the All Blacks will wrap up quarter-finals weekend against Argentina in Auckland on Sunday night. On paper this looks to be the most predictable of the four matches, with Argentina never having beaten New Zealand and only ever getting close in matches played in Buenos Aires. Argentina qualified after a tight win over Scotland, before being pushed for much of their final pool match against Georgia. The All Blacks never once looked threatened during their pool matches and are odds on to make their way through to a semi-final.
However, once the final four is decided next Sunday night all bets are off as the pressure of finals football will kick in and the teams that can best withstand it will be the ones to advance.
All Blacks v Argentina
South Africa v Australia
Ireland v Wales
England v France